Connection is at the heart of so much in life and so it’s no surprise that it is an absolutely key element in performance too.  Humans without connection wither and die like plants without water; isolation at the heart of a great deal of psychological distress.  In live performances how well a performer can connect with her audience is a profound part of how enjoyable the audience member – and, dare I say it, the dancer – finds the performance.

I recently had a wonderful chat about connection in performance with a friend who has studied theatrical clowning.  As she studied it, theatrical clowning was about being spontaneously fun, in a deeply authentic way – a hugely difficult thing to learn and do.  Throughout her training she and her classmates were able to sense when a peer was being genuine, or not, and gave feedback on what an enormous impact this had on how they felt about the performance.  Performances that were genuine were seen as funny and engaging regardless of what the performer did; those that were not genuine were experienced as dull or even irritating.

Although it sounds like hokum, or magic, people can pick up on whether or not a performer is being genuine, is in touch with their inner self.  By connecting with yourself and responding from that place, you can connect with your audience in a profound way.  I’ve watched live dance performances that were technically perfect but that did not engage me at all – and I have watched performances that had some technical flaws but still gave me goosebumps, or moved me to tears.  The key difference is that ephemeral sense that the performer is performing from their soul – that they are genuine, that they are not just going through the motions.

Of course you won’t always connect with your audience, even if you are in touch with yourself.  They have to be open – at least a little bit – to the connection.  Connection always requires the Other with whom you can connect.  That’s another part of what can make it so hard.  It can be painful to offer that precious, beautiful internal “you” and to not have it received.  Performers need open hearts and thick skins to thrive and to survive.

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